Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Wisdom of Robert Strausz-Hupé
The Wisdom of Robert Strausz-Hupé

The Wisdom of Robert Strausz-Hupé

The following essay is adapted from remarks delivered at the ninety-fifth birthday party for Ambassador Robert Strausz-Hupé, held at the Union League Club in Philadelphia on March 26, 1998.

Mr. Ambassador, General Haig, Dr. Sicherman, ladies and gentlemen. I am deeply honored to have been asked to speak tonight about the amazing life of Ambassador Strausz-Hupé. I am also wholly inadequate. It may be so that insofar as I direct the International Relations program he founded at Penn, and edit the journal he founded for FPRI, I walk in his footsteps. But I certainly don’t fill his shoes. Nor could anyone do justice, in an after-dinner address, to a man who was both a thinker and doer, scholar and teacher, author and editor, intellectual and intellectual impresario, administrator, statesman, and visionary, whose careers span the century.

I am reminded of one of the last lectures given by the late Robertson Davies. Asked to honor a fellow Canadian novelist, he said, “There are some things I shall avoid. One of these is the biographical information which some speakers cannot refrain from, and another is the list of [my subject’s] works, in chronological order…. For the age of an author is of no consequence; if they are any good, they were born old and wise…. The only other fact I consider relevant is that [my subject] was educated at seventeen different schools, which suggests either a restless or unruly temperament, but both of these are characteristic of writers as a tribe.”[1]

The Ambassador will scoff at the notion, but it seems to us youngsters that he was born old and wise, and that he, too, was educated all over the place, if you count schools of hard knocks. So I shall say of him only that the first patriotic anthem he learned as a child in Vienna began: “Gotterhalte Franz den Kaiser, unseren guten Kaiser Franz”; that the ideal of multinational harmony symbolized by that Austrian Hapsburg monarchy disappeared in 1918 when Robert was fifteen; that he later recognized in America the only viable model for a new multinational harmony; and that he then served his adopted country throughout its fifty years’ crisis, from Pearl Harbor to the end of the Cold War, by teaching Americans how to reconcile the exigencies of geopolitics with their liberal values, by inspiring a generation of students at Penn, by helping to found the academic discipline of international relations,[2] by establishing the FPRI as a feisty alternative to Establishment opinion, and, finally, by advising presidents and serving five times as Ambassador.

One might think, given his lifetime of “preaching daily at the Temple,” that Strausz-Hupé is well-understood. The truth is almost the opposite. You may recall the interview Barbara Walters once did with Henry Kissinger, in which she asked him to sum up his personality in one word. He cleared his throat and replied, “Complicated.” So is Strausz-Hupé. But another reason he is misunderstood is that he always occupied that limbo which the French call hors de categorie, that is, outside the categories of hawk or dove, right wing or left, realist or idealist. And the reason for that is that while others were obsessed with the Cold War crisis of the day, Strausz-Hupé offered a strategy, philosophy, and vision that saw the Cold War as ephemeral and spied in the institutions of the West the foundations of an order that would replace the Cold War. No wonder critics on the Left and Right knew not what to make of him: he was decades ahead in his thinking. Indeed, he named his new journal Orbis way back in 1957 to imply that the FPRI’s quest was for a Novus orbis terrarum— an altogether New World.[3]

In the meantime, of course, the Cold War did have to be won, and Communism, as Reagan later put it, transcended. And Strausz-Hupé was concerned that the Containment strategy was not up to the job. Influenced no doubt by the Hungary and Suez debacles of 1956, and the shock of the Soviet Sputnik in 1957, he deplored the fact that the West let the Communists operate on the principle of “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is negotiable,” and feared that under current policies time would not be on the side of the West. Later, in the 1960s, he deplored the catastrophic half-measures taken by the Johnson administration in Vietnam, and it was then that Penn’s antiwar movement branded him a dangerous hawk who “incriminated” the university by association with American militarism.

That they did so only demonstrated their ignorance of Strausz-Hupé’s many books, not least his candid autobiography, In My Time, as well as a thorough misreading of his most influential book, Protracted Conflict, which they took to be an inflammatory tract that inspired the Vietnam War. I myself believed this the case until I bothered to read it and discovered that as early as 1959 Strausz-Hupé was boldly asserting that the Cold War was merely “the contemporary expression” of a “pervasive conflict” that had enveloped the globe since 1914 when “the august, unchallenged, and tranquil glories of the Victorian Age” were shattered. The revolutionary era which followed, he wrote, would destroy the nation-state system. The only question was whether it would be replaced by universal chaos and tyranny or by “a universal political-legal order under Western leadership” based on “a voluntary federalism.”[4] The clear and present danger lay in the fact that the Communists knew they were engaged in what amounted to World War III and had a strategy, protracted conflict, for winning, whereas the West was content with a posture that served only to contain its own strength and will. Strausz-Hupé urged the United States to regain its lead in advanced weaponry, but he did not advocate preventive war or urge the United States to commit to an expensive fight for the “minds, hearts, and stomachs of the ‘uncommitted’ world.“[5]

On the contrary, years in advance of the critics, he debunked the notion that foreign aid and state-building could win over the Third World. Rather, he wrote, the very guilt complex engendered in Third World peoples as they abandoned their traditional cultures for modernization created a vast psychological gulf that obliged them to attack the democratic capitalist West even as they lusted after its material benefits. What is more, there would always be a gap between the rising expectations of backward peoples and the assistance the West could provide. The Communists exploited these tensions, but the tensions could not be relieved. Hence, Strausz-Hupé concluded — this is 1959, remember — that the most the West should do in the Third World is pursue a holding action, avoid fixed commitments, and “abstain from action for action’s sake.” Regarding Vietnam, he later rued “the tremendous resources, both material and spiritual, [that] went into this wretched war, which, in my view, should have gone into NATO.“[6]

Speaking as a Vietnam veteran, I weep to think of the tragedies that Vietnam and America might have been spared had Strausz-Hupé been advising the president instead of the McNamaras and Rostows. For according to his logic, the United States ought never to have waded into Vietnam, or else should have mounted a low-cost holding action to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and so enforce a Korea-style stalemate. Strausz-Hupé even wrote in italics, “The current phase of the protracted conflict will not be settled by the battle for the uncommitted areas.” And the contention, often heard in our midst, that the underdeveloped world represents the decisive battlefield of the Cold War bespeaks the success of Communist strategy in distracting our attack from the most vulnerable sector of the protracted conflict— the Communist system itself.”[7]

Strausz-Hupé lost his struggle for the soul of the Political Science department at Penn, or more accurately, he moved on to fight bigger battles and pursue grander visions. The battles concerned the course of American statecraft during the Cold War, and they were not decisively won until the Reagan administration implemented Strausz-Hupé’s strategy aimed at carrying the war to the enemy’s camp, be it in the Third World, Eastern Europe, or the Soviet Union itself, and targeting the enemy’s weaknesses through economic and technological pressures and a rhetoric of freedom that delegitimized Communist rule. But however glorious those policy battles, it is those grander visions of Strausz-Hupé that elevate him from the ranks of the strategists to the lofty perch of philosopher of history.

Strausz-Hupé named his inaugural article in Orbis “The Balance of Tomorrow” after his Ph.D. thesis written in the closing days of World War II.[8] He began by defining the twentieth century as an age when the “bottom layers of the political universe have been set in motion,” one structure after another crumbles away, and “each solemn compact, hailed as a return to order, is overtaken and rescinded by events” (p. 10). He illustrated the point with a startling summary of the reversals of alliances that characterized the world wars and Cold War. Clearly, if there was any meaning to the storms of this century, it lay not in the “desperate tacking of stricken ships of state,” but in the storm itself, in the process.

“The issue before the United States,” he insisted, “is the unification of the globe under its leadership within this generation” (p. 14). That was the only solution to the two threats hanging over humanity, neither of which was the Soviet Union, but rather the demographic and political explosions in Asia combined with nuclear proliferation. Some conservative realists predicted a return to the old multilateral balance of power, the nineteenth-century model of order. But that system could not be revived, thought Strausz-Hupé, because the Judeo-Christian moral consensus and self-restraint it had rested upon had died in the First World War. Hence, the only alternative to anarchy was unity, first among the Western powers, then all over the world. And Americans must lead, because they alone had the power and federative genius to do the job.

Strausz-Hupé, the soi-disant reactionary, an apostle of world federalism? Yes, for the scion of the Hapsburg Monarchy understood that the nation-state is a recent arrival on the historical stage, that it was born of the odious French Revolution, and that unrestrained “by liberal constitutions [or] concern for the common interests of mankind,” it was “the greatest retrogressive force of this century” (p. 17). The solution to a barbaric clash of nationalisms was not the false and tyrannical heresies of Fascism and Communism, but rather “the only truly revolutionary power of this century”: the United States (p. 19). For the United States alone was future-oriented, a nation of many nations, open to limitless assimilation, tolerant, generous, humane, and pragmatic. Americans were also economic revolutionaries dedicated to free enterprise, new technology, and interdependence. Finally, America’s “federative power” was magnified by its de facto control of the Western Hemisphere and Pacific, partnership with Western Europe, and (then) leadership in the UN. But Strausz-Hupé had no illusions about the latter. He thought the UN a weak reed destined to be replaced someday by an expanded NATO community, which was “the nucleus of the world federation-in-the-making” (p. 23). The resulting Atlantic union could then confront even a hostile Asia with confidence, while the “sheer decency of the American scheme for universal partnership will inexorably persuade the Soviet masses over the heads of the communist bosses to defect into freedom” (p. 24).

Strausz-Hupé’s astounding prescience was original, but his vision of world federalism recalls the theories of many philosophers, not least Immanuel Kant. Writing at the time of the French Revolution, Kant envisioned a new world order based on a confederation of states which, after being exhausted by a series of ever more terrible wars, would flee “the lawless state of savages” and perceive that they could better protect their security and prosperity inside a union of states than by remaining aloof. That great insight was what made Kant’s scheme for “perpetual peace” realistic rather than utopian.[9]

Yet in all of Strausz-Hupé’s books one encounters only two brief references to Kant, and as for Hegel, Strausz-Hupé wrote: “In my attic molders the luggage of German philosophy.”[10] How then did he reach conclusions that parallel so strikingly Kant’s vision of federalism and how it would come about?

His first allusion to a new world order appeared in his Geopolitics, written in 1942. Federalism was part of the currency of the European resistance movement during World War II, but Strausz-Hupé came to it along a quite different path. The German geopolitician Karl Haushofer believed that the struggle among races for space and power must end in a world empire. Strausz-Hupé suspected he was right, but of course denied that a Nazi-dominated “heartland” would be the vehicle. He also saw how technology and global economic integration accelerated history anew, altered geography itself, and would “drive men’s thoughts about the world’s political organization into yet untried channels.“[11] The models he saw— this is in 1942, mind you— were Lend-Lease and the Atlantic Charter, which symbolized “the mission of the United States… .”[12] Haushofer himself had identified the United States as the only nation with the potential for global land, sea, and air power, which is why America would be the real arch-enemy of Pan-Germanism if ever it embraced a Weltanschauung, or “Pan-Idea,” of its own.[13] Strausz-Hupé sought to provide America with the “Pan-Idea” it lacked.

In 1945, he wrote that mankind faced one of three futures: endless geopolitical conflict, a world hegemony, or a world federation. The third was the “American solution,“[14] but Strausz-Hupé predicted that within a few years the wartime alliance would dissolve. By the time of the Korean war, however— and here is the core of his originality — Strausz-Hupé saw the struggle against Sovietism as the mechanism by which his federalist vision might yet take form. Not through the UN, not through “peaceful coexistence,” not through the alleged convergence of East and West, but through the institutions of the Cold War itself: the Marshall Plan, NATO, and the embryonic European Community. It all depended on whether or not the Western peoples could summon the will to hang together. And it was by no means certain they would, for Strausz-Hupé observed in 1952 that Europeans and Americans seemed to be losing faith in their own values. The political crisis masked a spiritual one.

He later wrote in his autobiography: “I was raised in the Protestant faith. Of its theological teachings I kept little.“[15] And yet he described, in language similar to Whittaker Chambers’, the demoralization that afflicted Western culture coincident with the rise of scientific-industrial-bureaucratic “mass society.” Cut off from the roots of their own notions of the purpose of life, Europeans and Americans were prey to materialism, to the patrons of race and class warfare who tear men apart, and to the “zone of indifference” inhabited by the postwar existentialists.

Did Americans care enough to save and lead the world, or would they succumb to a selfishness that could not, in the end, save even themselves? It was at that point that Strausz-Hupé sketched the blueprint later to appear in Orbis. First, Western Europe must unite. But that required that the United States deter the Soviet Union until the Europeans recovered from the war and learned “new, supranational loyalties.” Once this was achieved, the Soviet bloc would be exposed in bold relief as “a clumsy and backward despotism” and the Eastern Europeans would feel an “irresistible pull.” In the fullness of time the USSR would have to accept a negotiated settlement, pull back its armies, and permit the reunification of Germany.[16] The reunified West would then offer a framework which the rest of the world would beg to join. Thus would the Cold War become “a federative enterprise [that] confers justice and nobility upon the uses of power.“[17] In the decades after those words were written, NATO survived many crises, each labelled terminal at the time. The European Community was born, then deepened and broadened to the point of monetary and political union. East Europeans persevered through numerous heartbreaks, finally broke free of Moscow, and petitioned for membership in the EU and NATO. Germany reunified within the European and Atlantic communities. And the Soviet Union liberalized, de-Communized, shrugged off a neo-Stalinist coup, and peacefully disassembled. Strausz-Hupé even predicted that the Chinese would remain stubborn for a time, the last great power to get with the program.

It remains to be seen whether all this will eventuate in a European or Atlantic, not to mention a global confederation. But when considers the renunciation of war, security and economic collaboration, and interlocking multilateral institutions that define the Euro-American-Japanese orbit today, the thought is less fanciful than at first blush. After all, it was Winston Churchill, no airy idealist, who repeatedly spoke of a “United States of Europe” as the key to all peoples’ “happiness, prosperity, and glory.“[18]

On a more metaphysical plane, however, one may ask whether the political victory of the West may yet be canceled out by the spiritual malaise Strausz-Hupé detected so long ago. Our long fights against Fascism and Communism often brought out the best in us. Will peace bring out the worst? Is the “new world order,” whatever its shape, just a way to make the world safe for nihilism, hedonism, and self-worship— a community for the purpose of evading community? Are we, as Robert Frost feared, finally to quench the fires, only to perish from ice?

An obituary that appeared just last week encourages me to close with a cheerful prognosis. Another famous Central European, another veteran of all this century’s turmoil, another powerful writer and strategist, has died at the age of 102. He was Ernst Jünger, the Stormtrooper whose character was chiseled for life in the trenches of World War I. Jünger killed and observed mass killing with a cynical detachment, and in his masterpiece Storm of Steel he wrote of war in a cold and surgical style. Later, he scorned the Nazis because they were “lower-class rabble,” and devoted his retirement to the collection of beetles. He was content, he said, “to watch people eat each other like insects.“[19] When Germany reunited, it moved him not in the least: my only reality, he said, is the Reich of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Jünger was a genius, but he was only part human.

Strausz-Hupé, by comparison a youthful ninety-five, deplored war with a passion. He wrote about power politics, too, but in prose that was always humane and at times sublime. He did not retire from a contemptible world, but engages it still in hopes of liberating humanity from the geopolitics that make men treat each other like insects. And even though his Austrian Kaiser, Franz Josef, was benign, if not always competent, Strausz-Hupé harbors no illusions about the dead age of monarchy. He strains instead to imagine a new golden age and beckons us to see with his eyes. He, too, is a genius, but he is all human.

Let us pray that the spirit of the twentieth century has died with Ernst Jünger, and that the twenty-first century will be infused with the spirit of Strausz-Hupé.


  1. Robertson Davies, “Honoring Mavis Gallant,” in The Merry Heart: Reflections on Reading, Writing, and the World of Books (New York: Viking, 1997), p. 318.
  2. Stanley Hoffman, “An American Social Science: International Relations,” Daedalus 106, 3 (1977), pp. 41-60.
  3. Robert Strauz-Hupé, “The Balance of Tomorrow,” Orbis, April 1957, pp. 10+27.
  4. Strausz-Hupé et al., Protracted Conflict (Philadelphia, Penn.: Foreign Policy Research Institute, 1959), pp. 10, 150.
  5. Ibid., p. 130.
  6. Samuel Hughes, “Robert Strausz-Hupe’s Long Walk On the Right Side,” Pennsylvania Gazette, Oct. 1995, pp. 30+36 (35).
  7. Strausz-Hupé et al., Protracted Conflict, p. 132.
  8. Strausz-Hupé, The Balance of Tomorrow. Power and Foreign Policy in the United States (New York: Putnam, 1945).
  9. Immanuel Kant, Thoughts on Perpetual Peace (1795), quoted by F.H. Hinsley, Power and the Pursuit of Peace (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1967), p. 62ff.
  10. Strausz-Hupé, In My Time (New York: W.W. Norton, 1965; New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1996), p. 33.
  11. Strausz-Hupé, Geopolitics (New York: Putnam, 1945) p. 193.
  12. Ibid., p. 195.
  13. Ibid., pp. 65+67.
  14. Strausz-Hupé, The Balance of Tomorrow, p. 276.
  15. Strausz-Hupé, In My Time, p. 278.
  16. Ibid., pp. 288+99.
  17. Strausz-Hupé, Power and Community (New York: Praeger, 1955), p. 128.
  18. See Robert Mundell, “The Case for the Euro-II,” The Wall Street Journal, March 25, 1998, sec. A, p. 22.
  19. “Obituary,” The Economist, Feb. 28, 1998, p. 89.

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